The word ‘Gurkha’ is derived from Gorkha. Gorkha is a small picturesque hill- town of Nepal ( Located in the south-east Asia between India and China) which has a rich history of its own. The place is situated on a small mountain at the height of 3500 feet and offers a magnificent view of the Himalayan Peaks. King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified the Kingdom of Nepal during eighteenth century.
So, the name 'Gurkha' is the Anglicised version of 'Gorkha' (pronounced Gorr-kha), a word that the British have struggled to pronounce since the time of the Anglo-Gorkha War of 1814-16. The spelling of 'Gurkha' has changed many times over the past 200 hundred years - variations include: Ghurka, Goorkha, Goorkah and many others. The Gurkhas of the Indian Army have retained the more faithful spelling of 'Gorkha', which is also how British Gurkhas still refer to themselves in Nepali.
Gorkhali - Gurkhas:
Gurkhas take their name from the Himalayan principality of Gorkha in west-central Nepal. It was from Gorkha that he original ‘Gorkhali’ army set out in the 18th Century, under the leadership of Prithvi Narayan Shah. Together they conquered all their neighbouring hill states, including the Malla kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley, and in doing so created a 'Gorkha Raj' ('Gurkha Empire') much larger than modern-day Nepal.
It was this same Gorkhali army that fought against the British in the Anglo-Gorkha War of 1814-16, which in turn lead to the British recruiting Gurkhas into the British Army.
In the Nepal war of 1812 the British sent a force of 30,000 against 12,000 Gorkhas (in reality at this time there was no such thing as a Gurkha -- they were called Gorkhalis) thinking in their usual arrogance they would take Nepal by storm. Just the opposite proved to be true. The Gorkhas fought the British to a standstill.
These were the first Gorkhas, fighting men from the mountain kingdom of Nepal -- Rai, Magar, Limbu, Gurung and Sunwar tribesmen. Small of stature, large of heart, accustomed to hardship, good natured with a keen sense of humor, loyal to death, more disciplined than any fighting force in the world, brave and capable, and absolutely without fear.
The Gurkhas are legendary soldiers with a reputation for loyalty and bravery that has been confirmed many times, as the 13 Victoria Crosses and countless other awards for valour that they have earned - and continue to earn in modern conflicts -prove beyond doubt.
In 1815, the first Regiment of Gurkhas (Gorkhas) was formed from volunteers who were in service of the East India Company. The formation of the regiment was a direct result of the war between the British East India Company and Nepal in 1814. Impressed by the qualities of the Gurkha soldiers the British were keen on recruiting them. The peace treaty that followed the conflict allowed the Gurkhas to volunteer for service with the East India Company. A force of 3,000 Gurkhas divided into four battalions was erected.
The regiment served with the British Army in India. While the numbers of the regiment continued to grow it soon became one of the pillars the British relied on. One of the examples of their loyalty is the mutiny in 1857. Instead of joining the mutineers they joined the British ranks and helped to put the mutiny down. Their loyalty and qualities were also confirmed during several campaigns on the Northwest frontier of India.
The Gurkha Regiments were reorganised between 1901 and 1906. The official name was changed to the Gurkha Rifles. Ten battalions numbered from 1st to 10th battalion were part of the regiment. When World War I broke out the British started increasing the number of Gurkha soldiers. By the end of the war over 100,000 Gurkhas had been part of one of the regiments of the Gurkha Rifles. Again, the Gurkhas proved their qualities on almost every battlefield of the war, earning two Victoria Crosses in the process.
Directly after the Great War, the amount of Gurkha soldiers was decreased again to the size of ten battalions. For the time being, the Gurkhas took on their old duties in the British colonies. As soon as World War II was a fact, enormous amounts of Gurkha soldiers were enlisted again. Over 112,000 served in some 40 Gurkha Battalions of the Gurkha Rifles. Like in World War I the Gurkhas served on all the major battlefields of Africa, Europe, the Pacific and Asia. Ten Victoria Crosses awarded their actions.
After World War II the Gurkha Rifles were again down sized to the original ten battalions. The global decolonisation process directly after the war was responsible for another major change in the existence of the Gurkha Rifles. When India became independent in 1947 six regiments of the Gurkha Rifles were attached to the Indian Army. 2 Gurkha Rifles, 6 Gurkha Rifles, 7 Gurkha Rifles and 10 Gurkha Rifles remained a part of the British Army. The regiments were moved to Malaya in the Far East in 1948. Here they received their own Gurkha engineer, signal and transport regiment and together they formed the 17th Gurkha Infantry Division.
Gurkha brigades served continuously during the twelve years of the Malayan Conflict. The Gurkha also participated in the Brunei Revolt in 1962. That very same year battalions of the Gurkhas started serving in the conflict with Indonesia. Until 1966 they operated in the jungles of Malaysia, deserving one Victoria Cross.
In the period from 1967 and 1972, the Gurkha Rifles were reorganised. The amount of Gurkhas was decreased from 14,000 to 8,000 men and, although some units were sent to Great Britain and Brunei, headquarters was moved to Hong Kong. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 Gurkhas were transported to a British base on the island. In 1982 a Gurkha battalion participated in the Falkland War and during Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 were again back on the frontline. More recently, they were part of U.N. missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
In 1994, the British Army started a major reorganisation. On July 1st 1994 the four regiments of the Gurkha Rifles were disbanded and a new larger Regiment was formed under the name, the Royal Gurkha Rifles. For the time being, the regiment received three battalions. One (3 R.G.R.) based in Great Britain, one (2 R.G.R.) in Brunei and one (1 R.G.R.) in Hong Kong. The engineer, signal and transport Regiments were reduced to squadron size. Together with Gurkha Headquarters, the recruit training wing and the Band these three units were based in Great Britain.